The Fish Story – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB


There’s no doubt that eating fish is a healthy habit, and in recent years it has become more popular too. Fish is not only lower in fat than beef or poultry, but it is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a fact that no doubt has led to its popularity. Omega-3 fatty acids are substances that research suggests may protect the heart and arteries. Nutrition experts recommend eating some form of seafood at least twice a week.
Most people with IC can eat fish and unless you have an allergy to it (fish is a common allergen) chances are you won’t have any trouble from your bladder. IC patients with food allergies may find their bladder also seems to react to foods they are allergic to.

Fish Allergy

So how do you know if you’re allergic to fish? Just because you don’t break out in a rash or start sneezing when you eat a particular food, doesn’t mean you aren’t allergic to it. An allergist can test you for food allergies. Several kinds of tests are available including a skin-prick test, a blood test, or a challenge test (where you eat the food and watch for symptoms). You may have to hunt around to find an allergist who does blood-based food allergy testing. Many do not. One kind of blood test for food allergy may be called RAST test or an ELISA test. One manufacturer of such a test, US Biotek, has an informative website you may find interesting (

One lady who had had IC for several years was clued in to the possibility of food allergies when she noticed that she had a runny nose quite often during dinner. Another IC patient who was recently tested, was surprised when her doctor told her she had food allergies. She didn’t sneeze or break out in an obvious rash in response to any food. But when she eliminated the allergenic foods from her diet, her IC improved.

If your bladder seems to react to fish (and it may be a delayed-type reaction where the symptoms come on 12 to 24 hours after eating the fish), you might also consider the possibility that you are reacting to preservatives, not the fish itself. Sulfites and phosphates are sometimes used as a dip to preserve seafood. (You may not taste sulfites, but if they’ve used too much phosphate dip the fish may taste “soapy”.) Sulfites are known to be especially allergenic. Try preservative-free fish from a natural foods store, or fish you catch yourself.

When buying fish, be sure it is fresh, not old. Fish shouldn’t have a strong “fishy” odor. That’s a sure sign that the fish is decomposing. Be sure that you buy from a reputable dealer too, one who does not sell fish caught in contaminated waters. If fat content is important to you, remember that fish that is white or light-colored (orange roughy, perch, snapper, or sole) is leaner than fish that is darker in color (Atlantic salmon, tuna, or mackerel).

Species To Keep an Eye On

A few alarming studies over the last several years have shown that some Americans are consuming too much mercury. And despite being otherwise a very healthy food chocie, a few fish species have routinely been found to contain dangerously high levels of mercury. Other species found in supermarkets may have high levels of PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls)– an industrial chemical whose use has been banned, though it persists in the environment.

Mercury, a toxic metal that can cause permanent nervous system damage, is particularly harmful for pregnant women and children. PCB’s have long been suspected of causing cancer and compromised immune systems. Certain fish species absorb these dangerous chemicals because the food they eat is laden with it. As big fish eat small fish and then are in turn eaten by bigger fish, toxic substances become concentrated. These harmful chemicals are the most concentrated in species of large fish at the top of the food chain– swordfish and tuna for instance. Because IC has aspects of immune system involvement as well as involvement of the central nervous system, we’d be well advised to keep tabs on our intake of these fish. Who needs to add any more fuel to the fire?

The federal government advises that sensitive populations avoid these species altogether, because they are very high in mercury: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish (which is sometimes called “golden snapper” or “golden bass” in stores and restaurants). Farmed salmon and catfish may have high levels of PCB’s. Although there is some disagreement over the situation with tuna steaks and canned tuna, many toxicology experts think one should limit the intake of these. Michael Bender, director of the non-profit Mercury Policy Project, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in September 2003 as saying, “Based on the data, yeah, we think that tuna steaks and sushi should be in the “do not eat” category for pregnant women and kids.”

Safer Species

The following species are both low in toxins and a good source of protein and omega-3’s: oysters, clams, scallops, shrimp, cod, tilapia, perch, flounder, sole, wild salmon, and farm-raised rainbow trout, among others. With all the debate over fish safety you might be tempted to pop a few fish oil supplement pills, or reel in your own fish.

Fish oil may not be a good idea because PCB’s reside in the fats and oils of fish. With unregulated dietary supplements, you have no way of knowing what kind of fish was used in the manufacture, and whether or not it came from polluted waters.

Before eating any fish you catch, check the local advisory on the EPA’s web site: There, you can check on the body of water where you fish by clicking on “National Listing of Advisories”.

Here are two delicious, bladder-friendly, and easy-to-prepare fish recipes:

Cousin Addy’s Oven-baked Catfish

– serves 2

  • 2 servings cleaned catfish filets
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cups unseasoned, preservative-free bread crumbs
  1. Pat fish dry and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking dish lightly with oil. In a small skillet, cook garlic in the olive oil just until tender. Remove from heat and stir spices into the hot oil. Place filets in the baking dish and pour oil and herbs over fish, scraping bits of herbs from the skillet.
  2. Bake uncovered in 400 degree F. oven for 10 minutes. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top of fish and return to oven. Bake another 15 minutes until fish is opaque (test by cutting a small slit in the thickest part).

Note: This recipe was originally meant for catfish, but I’ve tried it with tilapia and red snapper with great results!

Nut-topped Orange Roughy

– serves 4

  • 4 orange roughy filets, cleaned, skinned and patted dry
  • 6 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 cup almonds (or cashews)
  • 3 tsp. dried basil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a covered baking dish with non-stick spray or lightly coat it with olive oil. Arrange the fish filets in the baking dish. Chop the almonds in a food processor or chopper until they are fine particles. Combine the olive oil, chopped almonds, and basil. Spread the nut mixture over the tops of the fish. Cover and bake in a 350 degree F. oven for 15-18 minutes, or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

This article originally published Apr 1999, revised and updated by the author Oct 2003.